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tv   Asia Insight  PBS  February 17, 2016 6:30pm-7:01pm PST

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filling the streets of chongqing, southwest china. they all serve similar dishes.
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in winter, hot pots are particularly popular. full of rich ingredients and oily soups seasoned with chili and chinese pepper. the taste is an intense and spicy experience. customers can enjoy various delicious vegetables and meats. but the profit margin for ven r vendors is relatively small. many have turned to using cheap and unsafe ingredients, prompting a crackdown by authorities. in october 2015, the chinese government implemented a tough revision to the country's food safety law. it holds all parties involved in production and sales legally responsible for food management. the revision also requires
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self-inspection and the tracking of transportation routes.
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>> the hot pot industry is now trying to clean up its dishonest image due to the new safety measures. one young entrepreneur launched 80 hot pot diners nationwide in just five years. a chef has been ordered by a leader in the industry to devise better standards. and a stubborn vendor tries to keep his prices low and protect the traditional taste of hot pots. from local street vendors to luxury restaurant chains, we follow three of china's hot pot sellers.
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the city of chongqing in southwest china is a direct controlled municipality along with beijing, shanghai, and tianjing. recently it's developed as an inland region industrial city. hot pots are chongqing's famous local delicacy. chongqing has even been named china's hot pot city by the chinese association of cooking. everything from takeout hot spot snacks to full meals are readily available. the people of chongqing consider hot pots their soul food. an upmarket hot pot restaurant sits in the middle of chongqing's business district.
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it's called ba river and is part of a chain of 380 restaurants in and outside of china. the company also runs its own food processing factories and cooking schools. boasting many famous chefs, it leads the country's hot pot industry. an average dish here costs around $15. over two times the price a customer would typically pay at a local vendor. since its founding in 2002, food safety and hygiene have been paramount for ba river. the company's ceo wang wei is at the front line of improving the industry's image and serves as vice chairman of chongqing's hot
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pot association.
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>> the restaurant implements a strict daily routine of checks to educate and discipline staff. a sanitation inspection is held once a month for each department. top scorers get reported while violators are penalized. in china the skills of chefs are approved by the state. ba river's pan lian has reached the very highest rank. pan is responsible for on-site management for the entire group. his duties include procuring ingredients and implementing cooking methods. under pan's expert guidance many positive changes have been made. his biggest focus has been securing safe and fresh ingredients. the restaurant's chefs always check deliveries, a task typically conducted by
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lower-ranking staff at other large-scale establishments. using their many years of experience, everything is examined very carefully. fake food products plague the chinese food industry. fraudulent practices include using chemicals to make seafood look fresh and coating meat with coloring. all valid reasons for the two chefs to check everything with their own hands and eyes.
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>> pan has designated staff in charge of ingredients other than fresh foods too. they keep detailed records of who signed for what and where the goods are stored so they can make immediate action if a problem arises. such systemic management has also helped cut down on unnecessary stock. on this day, pan is heading to an agricultural region 100 kilometers from chongqing. in order to secure safe and fresh ingredients, the company invested in an enterprise engaged in large-scale agriculture and began experimenting with outsourcing food production.
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>> nowadays agriculture in the metropolitan suburbs is becoming increasingly corporately run. land is acquired from local farmers who become employees of the firms. vegetables are produced to the standards demanded by such large corporations. having their own farms also allows companies to cut costs
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and obtain a stable supply of produce. and by managing the use of pesticides and fertilizers, they can confidently comply with the revised food safety law. >> the company has plans to grow more kinds of vegetables in the future for its restaurants.
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the flavor of a good chinese hot pot is determined by the broth. the oil serves as the base and is the main ingredient. it's followed by huge amounts of chilies. then chinese peppers, garlic, ginger, green onions, and chinese rice wine. each establishment has its own recipe. but irrespective of the costs incurred the soup can't be priced high, and refills are often given without charge. to bring down costs, some vendors have been known to use waste oil or oil filtered from sewage. even major chains sometimes reuse leftover broth. all these unscrupulous practices have been making the headlines, resulting in a negative impact on the industry. those who provide safe and clean products have also been affected.
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a district filled with hot pot restaurants. 24 businesses occupy a 200-meter-long stretch. competition is fierce. at 4:00 p.m., each store begins setting up outside. they put up tarps and lay out tables and stoves quickly and efficiently. it's one of chongqing's most popular hot pot districts. ma qinkui runs one of the two top outlets here. he opened it when he was 24 and has been providing affordable hot pots with traditional flavors for over 20 years.
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>> the street is ready for business in just 15 minutes. at 4:20 p.m. the battle for customers begins. signs are displayed offering free parking and cars are flagged down. some vendors go into the street to approach drivers. ma knows he has to keep up with his rivals. ma pulls in his first customer of the evening.
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>> on this night the temperature is 6 degrees celsius. over 3 degrees colder than the day before. ideal weather for a hot pot. around 8:00 p.m. customers are already starting to leave the hot pot street. more than half of ma's tables are empty.
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his staff sit around in the back of the restaurant killing time. by the end of the night ma had about 180 customers.
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>> hot pots require a lot of fresh ingredients. without customers, they all go to waste and their cost is struck off as a loss. hu is ma's wife and purchases ingredients for the restaurant every morning. she used to buy affordable vegetables sold in the streets by farmers. but since the revised law, she can only purchase more expensive goods that have been officially inspected. the restaurant only requires small amounts, so she buys from retailers instead of wholesalers.
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>> in order to get the best value, hu visits four or five markets a day. the lower the cost, the higher the profit. she's asked ma many times to raise the menu prices but to no avail.
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>> after returning, hu decides to speak to ma with the accountant.
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>> that night, the street is much livelier. ma's store is bustling with customers.
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>> on this night, ma's store makes a small profit. overall sales could drop any time, however, as they rely on customer traffic. due to the unpredictability, many stores on the street are closing down. the revised food safety law also specifies how equipment should be maintained as well as how dishes should be sterilized. but many local stores have yet to adapt to the changes. meanwhile, one hot pot business has managed to open 80 restaurants all over china in just five years. the average age of its employees is 26 years old. their innovative ideas and store
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management systems have kept the business growing. yang mengyin is the company's president. yang opened her first hot pot store when she was only 18. she's since made the business one of the top 50 hot pot companies in chongqing. when yang opened her first store in 2010, the hot pot industry faced harsh criticism due to news coverage of restaurants using filtered sewage oil. yang placed a strong emphasis on making a clean business seen from a customer's perspective.
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>> yang's restaurants have a different interior and atmosphere depending on the location. they sometimes target younger customers in areas frequented by youth with more family-friendly ones in residential areas. it's a strategy for attracting customers who wouldn't normally eat hot pots served by street vendors. yang's restaurants are always packed, day and night.
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to further boost sales, yang's company recently began online deliveries. they set up a system where customers can easily order from home. until now, no one had thought of such a hot pot delivery service. exactly the same ingredients are used as in the restaurants, making big cuts on running costs and labor. the chongqing restaurant delivers to any location within the city. even though customers have to pay a 10% additional fee, online sales are increasing every day.
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>> the service also provides a returnable pot and hot plate. all the customer has to do is set it up and add the ingredients. >> a family enjoying a delicious hot pot in the comfort of their home. perfect pr to improve the dish's tarnished image. yang has also come up with a course that lets visitors to the
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city see the broth being prepared. it's a novel way of making them feel safe about what they'll be eating.
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>> historically, the chinese believed healthy food could prevent and cure sickness. but ensuring food safety has taken a back seat for many years. now the country could once more be proud of one of the finest culinary cultures in the world.
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hello, there well. welcome to newsline. it is thursday, february 18th. i'm catherine co yosh she in tokyo. washington is seriously concerned about china's increased in the south china sea. responding to reporting that beijing has deployed surface to air missiles in the region and pointed out the contradiction to remarks made by china's president last fall. >> they stood in the rose garden with president obama and said china will not military yoois in the south china sea. there is evidence everyday that there has been an


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